Forgiveness: The Second in My Series of Most Important Virtues

This is the second in my series on what I called the Seven Most Important Virtues for Living.   I will speak from my personal experiences on Forgiveness and try to share as much of my own life as possible.  I do not want to speak as an “Expert.”  I am far from being an expert on this subject.

Every Tuesday morning, I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Please give me the strength and courage to forgive those who insult, disrespect or harm me in any way. May I be strong enough to offer forgiveness to others and to ask for forgiveness for myself.

Forgiveness is a subject that is both easy and difficult for me to write about.  It is easy because I have had a great deal of experience with the subject.  It is difficult because much of my experience has not been positive.  It seems to be a virtue that I am not very good at.  I can’t say that I ever gave it much thought until several years ago.  Here is what changed my life.

When my oldest and only daughter started college, about two years after my first wife and I separated, we had a slight argument over money.  I did not think it was that big of a deal but Chris (my daughter) became very angry.  She said she never wanted to see me or talk to me again.  She told me that I had made her life miserable when she was growing up and she wanted me out of her life for good.  Almost ten years went by and despite my best efforts, she would not reply or respond to any overtures I made.  I felt very sad but I did not know what to do.  I was torn between trying to see her and also trying to respect her wishes.

I ended up talking to a sizable number of people who one for reason or another like me had been cast aside by friends or loved ones.  I thought this would make an interesting story and I wrote some of my thoughts on this issue and sent it to the Oprah Winfrey show.  I never expected to hear from them.  Several months went by and one day I received a phone call.  The person on the other end wanted to know if I would like to be on the show and talk about my problems with my daughter.  The other person described this particular Oprah show as one that dealt with forgiveness.  I was intrigued but I had several misgivings and turned the offer down.

A year or so went by and one day the Oprah show called me again.  For the second time they asked me if I would like to be on the show.  They explained that they would contact my daughter and if she accepted, we could both come on the show and tell our stories.  It would be a show about forgiveness and I could offer my apologies for anything I had done and see if Chris and I could work things out on the show with Oprah acting as a facilitator.  I decided to give it a chance and after discussing some logistics, I accepted the invitation.

A couple of weeks later, I was flown with my wife Karen and my step-daughter Megan to Chicago where they had booked rooms for us at the Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago.  We were told that a limousine would pick us up in the morning and then take us back to the hotel or to the airport after the show was filmed.  We were given food vouchers and enjoyed some fine dining in our hotel rooms before going to bed.  There was a definite feeling of both excitement and dread on my part.  I had no idea what to expect.  At this time, I did not even know if my daughter was going to be there.

Next morning, I went for a run around the streets of Chicago.  A funny thing happened on my run.  A film crew from a local TV news network stopped me and asked me if I was a tourist.  I said that more or less I guess I was and they then conducted a brief interview with me concerning what I thought of Chicago.  Two TV shows in one day!  After I returned to the hotel, Karen, Megan and I showered, dressed and waited for the limousine to take us to Oprah’s studio.

We were picked up and driven to the studio where Karen and Megan were taken to the audience area, while I was escorted to what they call the “Green” Room.  There were actually two such “Green” rooms where guests could be separated.  I talked to several other guests who were on the show also to deal with the subject of forgiveness.  One was a man whose family had owned slaves and he wanted to ask forgiveness for the history of his family.  The other was a Methodist Bishop who wanted to ask forgiveness for her church because of the slaughter of innocent Native Americans led by a Methodist minister named John M. Chivington at Sand Creek in 1864.

A short time passed and while I was getting my nose and head powdered, Oprah Winfrey herself and her little dog came in to chat with me.  We talked for a short time and she told me that she wished me the best but to keep in mind that I might not get what I hoped for.  She said that often the people who felt that they had been wronged did not want to forgive the other party.

I went out on the stage with Oprah and I was truly surprised that my daughter Chris had also accepted the invitation to be on the show.  I was immediately hopeful that we could resolve our differences and begin a new relationship.  Oprah explained that there were three components required for forgiveness.  True forgiveness it was explained requires one to accept all three components if that is what the other party needs.  The three components of forgiveness are:

  1. An apology or request for forgiveness
  2. A willingness to listen to hear how you hurt the other party
  3. A willingness to make amends or to try to correct the wrong in some way

Oprah started off the conversation by asking my daughter Chris why she did not want to speak to me.   Chris had a lot of reasons.  I had already realized that I was often angry when she was young and I would explode at the drop of a hat.  I had gone through a Domestic Abuse Program a few years earlier in which through counseling and a support group, I had begun to get my anger under control.  Chris had felt that while growing up she was often terrified to be living with me and feared for her and her mom’s life.  She had never been physically hurt by me and I can only remember one time that I had hit her mom and that was after she hit me.  Nevertheless, there was a constant feeling of fear in the house punctuated by my violent outbursts which included throwing things, punching walls and yelling at Chris and Julie, my spouse at the time.

When, Oprah finally turned to me and asked me what I wanted to say.  I had no doubt in my mind that I was sorry for my actions and that I wished I could turn the clock back.  I apologized to Chris and asked if she could forgive me.  I was ready to make any amends possible.  At this point, I had covered two of the three conditions for forgiveness.  I had said I was sorry and I had listened to her pain and grief.  I was ready to make amends.  However, Chris did not buy into the scenario.  She refused to accept my apology and informed me that she did not need a father in her life.  However, she said that she had two children and that perhaps they could use a grandfather.  She would have to think about it.  That was the end of our conversation.

Before leaving the show, Oprah told me that she was sorry it had not worked out better but that forgiveness is a very delicate process and that it does not always go the way we hope it will.   I was not discouraged though and I felt that the outcome was positive.  I thought that I could be a good grandfather and I welcomed the opportunity.

A few years later, I was again contacted by the Oprah show for a “follow-up.”  I again agreed to go on the show.   I did not know if Chris accepted or even had an invitation as she was not on the show.  My segment was very brief.  I explained that Chris still did not want me in her life but that I had been given a few opportunities to share some time with her two children, Frankie and Jesse.  These times were very brief and it was clear that it was only when Chris was present that I was allowed to see them.  I did not know it at this time, but even this opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren would soon derail.

While asking for forgiveness is never easy, particularly when you realize how you have hurt someone; I do not think it is the hardest part of forgiveness.  I had no trouble asking for forgiveness, for I am truly sorry about how Chris had to grow up.  I wish I could redo her life and give her a new childhood.  Many years have passed and I have only seen my daughter once in the past fifteen years.   She has been remarried and divorced but I have not been invited to any of her life events and any efforts to send letters or cards have not been acknowledged.   I found out two years ago in a conversation with my ex-wife that Chris had some time before attempted to take her own life.  It was shortly after her second husband left her.

The hardest part for me has been to “let go” and to forgive myself.  I tried going to confession at one of my annual Jesuit retreats.  The Father and I talked about my “sins” and the issues that I had as not being a very good father.  I was granted forgiveness by my confessor.  I hoped that this would help me come to turns with the grief and pain that I often feel when I think of Chris.  It has not.

I have been told that I really have not forgiven myself.  These are just so many empty words to me.  I do not know how to do this.  Particularly, when I reflect on the fact that out there someplace is a child that I spent twenty years with and to whom I am now totally irrelevant.  I never stopped loving my daughter.  I always wanted to be a good father and I did try to be a good father.  I remember many good times we had together as father and daughter.  It is hard for me to accept that the feelings and memories are not mutual.  If hell is of our own making, then I have made the hell that I feel when I think about Chris and wonder how she is.  I wonder if she will ever change her mind and forgive me.  Until then, I hope someday to know what it will feel like to forgive myself.

Autobiographies from the Dead – Cindy the Wife

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Cindy will tell you the story of her life and death.

Cindy the Wife

beatenHe beat me.  He beat me.  He beat me.  I hurt so badly from the pain.  But the physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional pain.  I loved him.  Why did he hurt me?  He kept on beating me.  Finally, I yelled for him to stop.  He screamed “I will stop when I am damn well ready.”  He then picked up a baseball bat and started to beat me with that.  The first blow to my head, and I could see stars.  The second blow, I thought my head would explode.  The third blow was the last one I could remember and then I lost consciousness.  I can see my body now.  My brains are leaking from my skull.  My blood is splattered all over the walls.  I think my arms are both broken and maybe my legs.  My poor body looks so lonely and disfigured.  I can hardly recognize my face.  I don’t feel pain any more but I still feel lonely.

black-woman-domestic-violence-16x9I probably should never have married him.  I was only twenty-five and he was thirty.  I had dated a series of jerks and losers and he seemed like a real nice guy.  We married about a year later.  We were so happy at first.  I thought all my dreams had come true.  Then the fights and arguments started.  A year after we were married was the first time he hit me.  He slapped me in the face and called me a bitch.  I think I deserved it.  I apologized and said that I was sorry.  A short time after that he punched me in the face.  I apologized again.  I probably deserved it.  The punches and hits became more and more frequent.  What was I doing wrong?

Terrified abused woman trying to stop the attack and devend herself,

Terrified abused woman trying to stop the attack and devend herself,

My friends all urged me to leave him but I could not. I know he loves me and needs me.  If I could only get him to stop hitting me.  The punches turned into beatings.  More and more beatings!  I would frequently have a black eye.  I always had bruise marks on my arms and legs.  He knocked a few of my teeth out one day.  Another time, he threw me against a wall so hard that it broke two of my ribs and dislocated my shoulder joint.  I told him I was sorry.  He screamed at me that I was a bitch and it was all my fault.

Police photos of Heather Thompson in a hospital bed are displayed at her home in Monroe, N.C. Thursday, May 28, 2009. Thompson was 23 in 1994 when her then-husband Thomas Howard Price Jr beat her senseless, leaving her with bone spurs, pinched nerves and osteoarthritis. She has taught law officers about domestic violence in the years since Price vowed in a letter from prison to kill her and their daughters. Price was released Friday May 29, 2009, from a federal prison in South Carolina. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Police photos of Heather Thompson in a hospital bed are displayed at her home in Monroe, N.C. Thursday, May 28, 2009. Thompson was 23 in 1994 when her then-husband Thomas Howard Price Jr beat her senseless, leaving her with bone spurs, pinched nerves and osteoarthritis. She has taught law officers about domestic violence in the years since Price vowed in a letter from prison to kill her and their daughters. Price was released Friday May 29, 2009, from a federal prison in South Carolina. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

I don’t know if I can take any more of this.  Maybe I should leave?  If only I could figure out what I am doing that makes him so angry.  I try and try.  I am a good wife.  I cook and clean and sew.  I keep a very tidy house. My meals are always cooked just like he likes them.  I fold his clothes and put them all away.  I try to adjust my time so that I am available whenever he needs me.  I want to have children some day.  I always watch how much money I spend.  I get along well with all of his friends and relatives.  I always try to make them feel right at home.  I am a faithful, loving and loyal wife.  My name is Cindy.  Please do not forget me.  I need someone to remember me.

Battered-Womens-Syndrome-1Nobody is home now.  The police have come and taken him away.  I feel sorry for him.  I know he loves me and did not really mean to hurt me.  I don’t physically feel any pain now.  All I feel is this deep loneliness and regret.  I must go to find God.  I do not really understand what I did wrong.  I have always believed that God was good and he would protect me.  I need to talk to God and ask him for forgiveness.  I want to know how to make this feeling of loneliness go away.  I will ask him to explain to me how I could have been a better wife.  My soul will never rest until I find God and ask him this question:  “Why?”  I know I am very sorry for whatever I did to cause this problem.

Time for Questions:

Why do we put up with so much domestic violence?  What do we teach our children that make them think it is okay to hit a woman?  What do we have to do to stop this violence?  Should we have a “War on Domestic Violence?”  Do we simply accept that there is nothing we can do about it?   Do you realize that t this is an international problem and not just a US problem?

Life is just beginning.

May 10, 2015 5:00AM ET

Brazil passes femicide law to curb domestic violence

Legislation defines gender-based killings and sets out tougher punishments for attackers

by Donna Bowater & Priscilla Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO — “My best hope is that he dies,” the tall, slight and articulate 45-year-old speech therapist said calmly of her husband. “I know that he can kill me.”

1woman badly beaten by husband lindaikejiblogThe woman, who asked not to be identified, had gone to the courts in Rio de Janeiro to seek protection from her husband of 22 years.

After her husband suffered a psychiatric breakdown in 2001, she said, he became violent and threatened to kill her, their daughter and himself. “I learned that between him and me, it’s me first,” she said.

It is estimated that more than 13 million women have been victims of domestic abuse in Brazil, where a woman is killed every two hours. Despite measures to reduce domestic violence with the Maria da Penha law in 2006, government figures suggest 700,000 women still live with aggression and assaults. Out of 84 countries, Brazil had the seventh-highest rate of women killed, according to the World Health Organization.


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